Statutory inquiry to examine sexual harassment allegations in Defence Forces

An independent review found 88 per cent of female respondents said they had experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment
Statutory inquiry to examine sexual harassment allegations in Defence Forces

Cillian Sherlock, PA

The Government has agreed to establish a statutory inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct, bullying and discrimination in the Defence Forces, as recommended by an independent report.

Reacting to the publication of the independent review group’s (IRG) report, Minister for Defence Micheál Martin also announced the immediate establishment of a new external oversight body of the Defence Forces to deal with the group’s recommendations.

The Tánaiste described the report as “stark” and “harrowing”, and committed to a programme of reform and culture change within the Defence Forces.

“Fundamental change is coming,” he said.

He said the current culture within the Defence Forces “is simply and entirely unacceptable”.


“Any form of sexual misconduct has no place in any workplace in the country,” he said.

“Today is a very challenging day for our Defence Forces, but it can also be a new start,” he added.

“We will pass legislation that will ensure there will be an obligation that any sexual assault that is reported will be dealt with by the gardaí in the first instance,” he said.

Mr Martin thanked the men and women who came forward to share what happened to them.

“Your fortitude and personal bravery is genuinely appreciated,” the minister said.

Interviewees told investigators of bullying, mobbing and sexual harassment within the Defence Forces which caused long-term pain and injury.

The research also found that 88 per cent of female respondents said they had experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment.

The research, which required hundreds of hours and consultations as well as thousands of pages of transcripts, found that some members of Defence Forces’ management “abuse their positions of power and command” in their treatment of subordinates.

This includes threatening behaviour and the suggestion the individual is under total control of the superior.

It found some members of management “crossed the line” by undermining individuals’ human dignity through an absence of respect.

The IRG said members of the Defence Forces should be offered access to an independent external complaints service for as long as it takes to put a “trusted internal system” in place.

National Day of Commemoration Ceremony
The Government agreed to establish an independent external oversight body. Photo: Damien Storan/PA.

The group recommended the appointment on a non-statutory basis of an external expert with sufficient powers to investigate medical boarding processes and a study into deaths by suicide of Defence Forces members.

It said the Defence Forces should develop new policies on gender, inclusion and diversity as well as ensuring the provision of adequate maternity clothing for female personnel.

The IRG said the enforcement of traditional gender norms in the Defence Forces “is a situation that cannot continue”.

It called on leadership to shift perspective to align with modern attitudes on gender, specifically adopting measures to address a culture of misogyny and “disrespect for all things female”.

The group concluded the Defence Forces is unable or unwilling to make the changes that are need to provide a safe working environment to its members.

In its high-level findings, the review also found that intellectual capabilities are rated as much less important than physical skills.

“Flexibility and alternative thinking is suspect,” the review found.

“Difference or divergence from a perceived norm is not tolerated,” it added.

“All of these have implications for culture, workplace climate and behaviours.”

Mr Martin said the inquiry would be established before the end of the year.

“I want to get this up and running as quickly as possible,” he said.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at, or visit Rape Crisis Help. 

In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112. 

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